Why Reason?  Inference, Reasoning, and Education

Colloquium | February 24 | 1-2:30 p.m. | 3515 Tolman Hall

 Paul Thagard, University of Waterloo

 Graduate School of Education

It is often assumed that inference and reasoning are the same process, but they are actually very different.  Inference is a neural process that is private, parallel, multimodal, emotional, unconscious, fast, and automatic.   Reasoning, in contrast, is usually public, serial, verbal, dispassionate, conscious, slow, and deliberate.  So the contributions of reasoning to inference are unclear, and it is legitimate to ask why people including teachers should bother with reasoning at all.

This talk will discuss this question from the perspective of Chris Eliasmith’s new theory of mind, the Semantic Pointer Architecture.  Semantic pointers are patterns of firing in groups of neurons that function like symbols while incorporating sensory, motor, and emotional information that can be recovered.  Communication between people is not just transfer of words, but rather multimodal transmission of semantic pointers.  Reasoning can be a useful although limited part of such communication, in teaching and in other social situations.